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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Snowshoe hare abundance and foraging behaviour in recently burned forests Hutchen, Jenna


A combination of climate change and decades of fire suppression has led to an increase in the size of wildfires in North American conifer forests. Large wildfires are more heterogeneous than smaller fires because of their landscape context and fire-weather that ignites them. Larger fires are patchier, and have more opportunities for good habitat, but they also produce large patches of open area where prey species are exposed to predation. For many mammal species, such as snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) this patchiness means having to navigate quite different habitat patches while trying to locate adequate cover and food. The density of animals in burns of different sizes, and how individuals behave while foraging in those within-burn patches, is unknown for many species. This study addresses these knowledge gaps (fire size and within-burn patchiness) with two studies. First, I assessed densities of snowshoe hare in 9 wildfires that burned 13 years ago (3 each of small (~100 ha), medium (1000-5000 ha), and large (>10,000 ha)) and in mature forests in southern British Columbia to determine if fire size impacts hare density. I found that hares were highly variable in large burns but when they were present the densities were the highest of any sites. Hares were absent from small burns and most medium burns. Hares were commonly present in mature forests but at much lower densities than in large burns. Second, I assessed snowshoe hare foraging behaviour by measuring tortuosity, speed of movement, and amount of browse along winter foraging pathways in open and regenerating patches of the Okanagan Mountain Park fire (>25,000 ha) and surrounding mature forest. I found that hares moved the fastest and browsed the least in open patches, and moved slower and ate more in sapling patches. Hares did not change tortuosity. The data from these two studies show that fire size is an important predictor of snowshoe hare density and that hares change foraging behaviour to some degree based on the type of habitat they are in.

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